I tutored a student who was living an exceptional life in many ways. His parents lived apart, which wasn’t great, but they lived within a mile of each other, which was nice. They were quite well-off, so both parents had extremely nice homes with many amenities and a never-ending supply of alluring distractions for their son: game rooms, tennis courts, pools, video games, big-screen t.v.’s, computers, etc. Almost every time I saw him, my student had a new toy or gizmo to occupy his spare time.
But one day he looked sad, so I asked him what was up. He said, “Nothing,” so I approached it differently. “How’s your new …,” whatever I’d seen him with when I arrived. He said it was ok. “Did you do your homework?” No. “What did you do instead?” His other answers were standard operating procedure, but his answer to this question surprised me: “Made a fort.” Now that was cool, I thought: to do something as creative and old-fashioned as make a fort when surrounded by World of Warcraft, iTunes, and a million high-tech toys … even if it meant neglecting his homework.But why was he so bummed? “Can you show it to me?” He shook his head. “Why not?” “It’s not there anymore. They took it down.” “Who did?” Here his temper started to rise—this was clearly what was making him sad: “I don’t know—the maids or the people who work in the yard or whoever.” “Why’d they do that?” “I don’t know—they’re supposed to, I guess.” “Well, could your parents tell them–?” “Whenever they tell them not to, they don’t understand or something, I don’t know, they just end up doing it anyway.” “You mean whenever you make a fort, it gets destroyed?” “Yup.” “Whether it’s inside or outside?” “Yup.” “What if you watch it or guard it or–?” “I can’t, because I switch houses every couple days.” “Oh.”
I asked him more about the forts. He makes them out of bamboo and boxes, or out of furniture and blankets. He makes them a lot. He loves to design, build, and perfect them. But he never gets to keep them, to add to them, to adjust them, to feel like they belong to him, to bring something of himself into his world on an ongoing basis, to keep something that’s just his. I suspect that his parents didn’t really tell the help to protect the forts. I suspect that the forts were deemed unsightly or superfluous. I suspect they were razed on purpose for reasons that make a world of sense to an adult but no sense in the world of a kid.
That, in short, sucks. But, on the bright side, creativity percolates up, even in the most sheltered, spoiled, and squelched. The drive to imagine and invent is there, underneath the many layers of asphyxiating dressing that passes as childhood these days. Thank goodness.